RUGBY - THE GAME OF TOUGH YET GENTLE MEN

                                                         [Updated May 23, 2021 after a review by Jim Russell, renowned former Rugby player and referee] 


All 3 of the U.S. military academies (West Point, Naval Academy and the Air Force Academy) have Rugby teams. Rugby first appeared in 1823 at the Rugby School in England when a Soccer player, who got bored with the no scoring --- picked up the soccer ball and ran to the other end of the field and threw it into the net. That got some attention from other bored fans and Rugby was born.

 

Rugby Basics 

The philosophical point of the game is non-stop play sans scoring and ball out of bounds

·       15 players per side (usual --- there is a 7-a-sides version)

·       Rugby game is two 40 minute halves

·       NO timeouts

·       NO blocking allowed

·       NO forward passes allowed

·       Each player plays both ways i.e., NO Offensive players vs Defensive players

·       There are NO Specialists i.e., punters or kickers

·       The ball can only be forwarded by running with the ball or by kicking the ball


·       Scoring: 

o   3 pts --- Field Goal, drop kick through the goal posts, during play 

o   5 pts --- Try, touching the ball to the ground in the end zone 

o   2 pts --- Kick after Try. Kicking the ball through the goal posts, over the Crossbar after scoring a Try  

o   7 pts --- Penalty Try (awarded by referee if an offensive player would have scored except for foul play)

 

·       Scrum --- a method to restart play when stopped by the referee --- like the Center in American Football hiking the ball 

·       Line-Out --- a method to restart play from out of bounds or play was stopped by the referee --- like a Jump Ball in Basketball 

·       Releasing the ball --- when a runner is tackled to the ground, the ball must be released immediately

·       Mark --- called by a player catching a kick while he does not run with it (fair catch)

·       Ruck --- players from both teams are on their feet, around the ball (ball is on the ground) and players on opposite teams are in contact with each other; fighting for the ball with their feet 

·       Maul --- when a player with the ball is held up by one of more opponents with one or more of the player's teammates having bound on the player. The ball is not on the ground.

 

Rugby, by mishap, gave birth to American Football when an American (who grew up in England), and who did not really understand Rugby (officially called "Rugby Laws of the Game"), started American Football. The Scrum became the offensive and defensive lines, the Scrum Half became the Quarterback, and the backs became the defensive backs and offensive running backs.

 

Initially American Football players, like Rugby players still do, played both ways (offense and defense). In addition, in a later American Football game, a player threw a forward pass ---  the referee did not know or remember the Laws of Rugby that that was illegal and did not call a penalty --- thereafter the forward pass was legal American Football.

 

On a 15 player Rugby Team --- 8 are part of the Scrum (aka Scrummies or Forwards) & the other 7 are Backs (running/defensive). There is a version called "7s" which has 3 in the Scrum and 4 Backs. Both versions play on the same field & follow the same Laws of the Game. Regular Rugby games play two 40-minute halves; 7's games play two 7-minute halves. There are no time-outs.

 

Starting players on any 15 player Rugby team, are numbered 1-15; replacement players have other different numbers. The most recognized numbers are the number "9" Scrum Half (who handles the ball more than any other player), the number "8" or Lock, is the last player in the very back of Scrum, and the number "15" Fullback who stands alone --- behind all the other running backs and acts like a safety (American Football) and occasionally joins in the line of the other running backs.

 

In any Rugby game, the ball can only be legally moved forward by a player:

  • running with the ball, and/or
  • kicking the ball forward

 

[NOTE: a forward pass is not legal; however more and more in today's Rugby, players have found it effective to pop kick the ball such that it acts like a forward pass to a teammate who (staying on-sides) can then run forward to catch the ball and continue running; or the player pop kicking the ball can run under it and catch it him/her self. The only rule here is that the teammate who catches the pop kick must have been behind the teammate at the moment s/he kicks the ball.]

 

[NOTE FURTHER that the kicked ball does NOT have to go up in the air --- if the player kicking it, sees an opening behind the opposition and sees that there is enough space between the opponents defending him/her that s/he can squib kick the ball on the ground between the opponents, that goes behind the opponents, where s/he, or a teammate, hopes for a convenient bounce that they can grab and continue running.]

 

Rugby is intended to be as non-stop as possible. It would never stop, other than scoring or ball out of bounds, if players never broke the rules. Enough said. Interestingly enough, the clock does not stop after a score or when the ball goes out of bounds. The clock only stops at half-time, or if the referee stops it. Stopping play does NOT stop the clock.

 

Scoring occurs by:

  • Drop-kicking the ball through the goal posts during play (3 pts)
  • Touching the ball to the ground in the opponents Try Zone (5 pts)
  • Touching the ball to either goal post at the front edge of the Try Zone (5 pts)
  • Penalty Try awarded by referee when a Try was prevented by foul play (7 pts)
  • Kicking the ball through the goal posts and over the crossbar after a Try (2 pts) --- a nuance is that the ball must be kicked from an imaginary line, as far away from the Try Zone as the kicker chooses, yet perpendicular to the Try Zone end line, from the point where the ball was touched down scoring that Try.

 

Note: if a player on defense gets his/her body under an opposing player with the ball, preventing the ball from touching the ground in the Try Zone, there is no score and a Scrum is called on the 5-yard line (throw-in is awarded to the attacking side Scrum Half).

 

In a Rugby game, while the clock usually does NOT stop, open play does stop when 1 of 2 things happen: the ball goes out of bounds –or-- the Referee stops play (usually for a penalty i.e. a violation of the Laws). Restarting play during a game happens in 1 of 2 ways: A Scrum or a Line-Out.  

 

The following position descriptions are for 15-a-side, which is the most common:


Scrum is a way to restart the game after a penalty. The 8 Scrummies on each side form up --- 3-person front row; behind them is the 2-person 2nd row; behind them is one lock and there are 2 wing forwards (or flankers) --- one on either side to the 2nd row. The Referee controls when the opposing sides come together using 3 commands:

·       Crouch --- the 2 sides of the Scrum physically connect to each other --- on each side

·       Bind --- the 2 sides of the Scrum come together without pushing 

·       Set --- both sides push

 

When a Scrum is called for by the referee, the 8 Scrummies face 8 opposing Scrummies 2-3 feet apart; then crouching with the opposing Front Rows making contact shoulder to shoulder, following the commands from the referee. The Scrummies are:

·       3 Forwards in front aka Front Row:

o   Loosehead Prop (#1)

o   Hooker (#2)

o   Tighthead Prop (#3)

·       Two 2nd Row players (#4 & #5) --- usually the tallest, strongest, smartest, and best looking --- just behind the Front Row. These 2 players bind together (one arm over each other’s shoulders) --- put their head between the hips of the Front Row --- and push with their shoulders

·       2 Flankers (aka Wing Forwards) --- one on each side of the 2nd Row who bind to their most adjacent 2nd Row player and push with one of their shoulders on the Prop in front of them

o   Blindside Flanker (#6)

o   Openside Flanker (#7)

·       The Lock (#8) is behind the 2nd row --- put his/her head between the hips of the two 2nd Row --- grasping their hips with his arms and pushes with both shoulders

  

Then the Scrum Half (#9) --- from the team awarded the ball by the Referee --- rolls the ball on the ground in between the 2 sets of Scrummies. The Scrummies must stay together until the ball comes out of the Scrum --- they fight for the ball with their feet, but it is the Hooker’s job to 1st get (hook) the ball and nudge it back inside the Scrum. Any Scrummy can pick the ball up when it gets to the back of the Scrum, but usually the Scrum Half (#9) takes it and laterals to the Fly-Half #10). 

 

There are 7 backs:

·         Scrum Half (#9) handles the ball the most of any other player

·         4 backs (running/defensive) on the strong side [Fly Half (#10), Inside Centre (#11), Outside Centre (#12), and the strong Wing(#13)] who position themselves in a straight but slanted line that fades diagonally back from the Scrum to the boundary --- because the only legal passes are laterals

·         1 back (running/defensive) on the weak side --- Weak Wing (#14)

·         1 Full back (#15), who acts like a Safety, who stands behind all the backs

 

Line-Out is another means to restart the game when the ball goes out of bounds. In that case a player from the team (that is awarded the ball by the referee) stands just outside the sideline and throws the ball (like a pass) between the 2 lines of Scrummies, one team on one side: the other team on the other side, who each stand in a line, 2' apart, perpendicular to the sideline. It used to be that the Scrummies (in the Lineout) were only allowed to jump unassisted for the passed ball --- but in today's Rugby, lifting is allowed --- whichever team gets it, starts their offense.

 

The Scrum Half (#9) stands ready to catch the ball if his/her team wins the Line-Out; with 4 backs stretched out on the strong side, one winger on the weak side and the full back behind them all.

 

Some countries have private Rugby Clubs aka RFCs (Rugby Football Clubs). England, and other countries, have many RFCs who own their field(s) --- commonly with a club house, locker/shower facilities and a lounge with a bar, on their own property. A RFC may have several teams and their players may, from time to time, get selected to play for their countries in International games on Select Teams.

 

7s players are usually the most athletic of their affiliated 15s team(s); those with quicker reaction times and tackling skills are much more important since there are fewer players on the field. If you know American Football, 7's players would most likely come from the likes of Linebackers, Defensive Backs, Tight Ends & Running Backs.  

  

Advantage

The Referee rules on "advantage" --- when a player violates a Law (penalty). But the Referee will NOT stop play immediately --- waiting to see if the opposing team gains an advantage.  If the referee sees that the opposing side does not gain an advantage from said violation, the Referee stops play and brings both teams back to the point where the violation occurred and awards a penalty kick to the opposing team, or calls for a Scrum with the ball being put in by the opposing teams Scrum Half. 

 

Mark

A Mark is like a "fair catch" in American Football whereas the opposing player, who is catching a kick indicates that he will be claiming a Mark, which (when caught) stops play, is allowed to kick the ball however s/he chooses.

 

Injuries

The game does not stop for an injured player unless the Referee determines that the injured player is in the way of play and stops play. Medical help will come on to the field to assist an injured player during play and play does not stop unless again the Referee stops it.

 

Rugby Basics, More about

 ·       There is a kickoff:

o   To start the game

o   After every score to restart play

o   After half time

·       Each player plays both ways

·       There are two 40-minute halves

·       There is 1 Referee on the field and 2 Assistant Referees --- 1 on each sideline

·      Scoring:

      o   3 pts --- Field Goal, drop kicking or penalty kicking the ball through the posts and over the crossbar, during play

o   5 pts --- Try, which is when a player touches the ball to the ground in the end zone (called the "In Goal” in Rugby terminology)

o   5 pts --- Penalty Try, when the referee determines a player was illegally prevented from scoring

o   2 pts --- Kicking the ball (following a Try) from the ground; ball placed on a line perpendicular to the goal line from the place where the ball was touched down in the end zone

·       Releasing the ball --- when a runner with the ball is tackled to the ground, the ball must be released immediately; if the referee sees a downed player hanging onto the ball (not releasing it), a violation will be called and the Referee will award a penalty by giving the other team the ball.

·       Knock on --- is a violation of the Laws. When the referee see it, s/he awards a penalty to the opposing team --- usually a scrum. A "Knock on” occurs when a player attempting to catch a kicked or passed ball, fails to control the catch and the ball goes (knocked) forward and hits the ground. 

·       Collapsing the Scrum – is a violation of the Laws. The referee awards a kicking penalty to the opposing team --- that team can elect to tap the ball to themselves and start running, or they can elect to kick for goal for a field goal (3 Pts), or they can kick out of bounds for distance where they will be given the throw in. 

·       Offsides --- is a violation of the Laws. The referee awards a penalty kick to the opposing team --- that team can elect to tap the ball to themselves and start running, or they can elect to kick for goal for a field goal (3 Pts), or they can kick out of bounds for distance where they will be given the throw in. "Offsides” occurs when an opposing player violates a line, perpendicular to the sidelines, which passes through the ball, before open play has begun. "Open play” means a player has the ball and is running with it. Opposing players must stay onside until open play has started. 

·      Ruck --- when players from both teams, while on their feet, close around the ball, which is on the ground, and are fighting for the ball with their feet.

o   Open play has ended and no player in any Ruck may handle the ball until the ball comes out (the side or the back) at which time any player (but usually the Scrum Half) can handle the ball

o   Normally happens after a runner is tackled and his/her teammates swarm around him/her

o   At least one player from each team must be in contact with each other

o   The ball must be on the ground

o   A player in a ruck must keep their heads & shoulders above their hips

o   A player joining the ruck must come from behind the ruck

o   A player joining the ruck must bind to a teammate by putting an arm over that teammate’s shoulders or around that teammate’s waist

·       Maul --- when a player with the ball is held up by one of more opponents and one or more of the ball carrier’s teammates bind to the ball carrier.

o   Requires a minimum of 3 players

o   Open play has ended

o   All players in a maul must keep their heads & shoulders above their hips

o   A player joining the maul must come from behind the maul

o   A player joining the ruck must bind to a teammate by putting an arm over that teammate’s shoulders or around that teammate’s waist

o   A player must not intentionally collapse the maul

o   A player may not jump on top of the maul

o   A player may not drag an opponent away from the maul

  

Other points that could help understanding Rugby:

- Rugby players are not as pretty as Soccer players; Rugby players are always tougher & stronger; which is which is very seldom confused

- Rugby Players wear no heavy duty padding or no hard helmets --- like American Football players wear

- This (above) is an answer to how do we reduce CTE in American Football --- no helmets 

Any player can run or kick the ball (which, while shaped like an American football, is a tad fatter)

A Rugby field size is a little larger than an American football field

- Each player stays on the field for the entire game unless hurt or substituted out

The Referee is the one and only official time keeper

- The half ends and the game ends when the Referee says so 

The clock does NOT stop for a scrum, when the ball goes out of bounds, after a score or, in some cases, when a player is injured

- The clock stops when the referee stops it; only the Referee can stop the clock

The Kick after Try must be kicked from any point on an imaginary line that is perpendicular to the In-Goal area and from the point where the ball was touched down in scoring that Try

- If the player with the ball crosses into the In-Goal area but is held up such that s/he cannot touch the ball to the ground; the referee will blow the whistle to stop play and call a scrum at the 5 yard line awarding the throw-in to the team that last had the ball

If play is stopped by the referee, it may be restarted by a Penalty Kick (PK) or a Scrum or a Lineout

- If the ball goes out of bounds, the game is restarted by a Line-out (the clock does not stop)

- An off-sides penalty occurs when a player on one team is in front of a teammate who kicks the ball and cannot get involved in the game until the kicker of the ball, or a teammate was behind the kicker, gets in front of the kicker

- Any rugby player must be able to tackle

In 7-a-side's, there is a 3-person Scrum , 3 Running Backs and a Scrum Half

- There is one main on-the-field Referee and the two Assistant Referees (one of each sideline); all 3 are involved in officiating the game

- In big games, if setup, there is a TV booth with cameras capable of showing replays --- which is available to the Referee for debatable calls

- The one and only main on-the-field Referee is the only authority on the field; what s/he says, goes

- The one in-the-field-of-play Referee may consult with either of the two side Referees

- A Yellow card is for a bad infraction; the player carded is sent off the field for 10 minutes (in Seven's  it is 2 minutes)

- A Red card is for a very bad infraction; the player carded is out of that game and may not play in the next game for his/her team

- Rugby is played in at least 103 countries on this planet

- Major League Rugby (MLR) brought professional Rugby to the U.S. in 2018

- There are international Rugby games; the big one is the Rugby World Cup

- International games are between countries

- For International games, each country can use any Rugby player who is a citizen of their country

- USA Rugby fields the USA Eagles to represent the U.S. in international games

- The USA Eagles use players from any other Rugby organization in the U.S. including the MLR

- The top Rugby teams on the planet have been the All-Blacks (New Zealand), the Springboks (South Africa) and the Fiji National team

- The most important Rugby game on the planet is the Rugby World Cup which is played once every 4 years

 

Professional (paid players) in the U.S. & Canada play in the somewhat new organization called "Major League Rugby (MLR)". It consists of 14 teams (13 U.S. & 1 Canada). The local team is the Seattle Seawolves who are the defending 2018 and 2019 MLR Champions (no Championship was held in 2020 due to Covid-19).

 

Other versions of Rugby

It appears that there are only 2 other versions:

 

  •       Rugby League
  •        Australian Rules Rugby

 

Not enough is known about them, to write about them --- other than they are not as popular as regular Rugby (both 15-a-side and 7-a-side). The 7-a-side regular version is what was in the Olympics which sheds some light on which was easier and cheaper to organize.

 

 

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